Insurgents Step up Attacks in Eastern Afghanistan

24 June 2008

The commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Eastern Afghanistan says his area has experienced a 40 percent increase in insurgent attacks on coalition and Afghan forces since January, compared to the same period last year. And, speaking via satellite, the general told reporters at the Pentagon the attacks are more complex and more sophisticated than they used to be. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The newly arrived U.S. commander, Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, painted a relatively bleak picture of the situation in his main area of responsibility in Eastern Afghanistan.

"We think we've had about a 40 percent increase in kinetic events, and we define those as really, literally the number of enemy attacks we've had on our coalition and Afghan partners, and this is compared to the exact same time of January through May of last year," he noted.

General Schloesser says some of the increased fighting has resulted from moves by the Afghan Army into areas where it has not operated before.

But he also says many of the attacks are more complex than they used to be, with insurgents using multiple roadside bombs combined with small arms fire to attack U.S. and NATO convoys. In addition, the general says the insurgents are getting more sophisticated in their choice of targets, trying to convince Afghans that their government and its allies cannot provide the security and development they have promised.

"They are aggressively targeting what I will call both development and governance at the local level," he added. "They're burning schools, and in fact they've attacked 43 here in our sector ever since school started here in Afghanistan in late March. And they are also killing teachers and they're killing students."

General Schloesser says the insurgents have even turned to such tactics as using a 10-year-old boy to carry a suicide bomb.

The general also says the Afghan military is performing well, and is, in his words, "almost at the tipping point" where its momentum "will not be able to go backwards." But he also says the job of providing security is made more difficult because Taliban forces and other insurgents have safe havens in Pakistan, which they can access whenever they need to rest, rearm and make plans for more attacks.

Still, the general says establishing security is only one part of the effort that Afghanistan and its allies must pursue in order to convince ordinary Afghans to turn away from the insurgents and support the government.

"The key to that is going to be development and really increasing demonstrably the quality of life for the normal Afghan villager and their family, and then linking the governance at the village level and at the lowest levels, the district level, to that same villager and their family over time," he said. "The security part is really meant to buy them enough time to get to that point."

General Schloesser would not predict how long that might take, but he believes progress is being made. Other officials have said the progress will be slow unless NATO is willing to send more, and more capable, forces to Afghanistan.